‘Heat-not-burn’ tobacco products are safer than conventional cigarettes, according to research presented to Public Health England (PHE).
A report by the Committee of Toxicology (CoT) found that the ‘smokeless’ devices – in this case, the IQOS and the iFuse - expose users to up to 90 per cent fewer harmful chemicals than a normal cigarette. But they also warned that some of the chemicals that remain can cause cancer, and that quitting smoking entirely remains a safer option.
CoT chairman professor Alan Boobis said: “There is likely to be a reduction in risk for cigarette smokers who switch to ‘heat-not-burn’ products, but quitting entirely would be more beneficial.”
The Philip Morris International-made IQOS and the iFuse by British American Tobacco have both recently hit the UK market. Rather than electronic cigarettes, which vaporise a liquid usually containing nicotine but no tobacco, ‘heat-not-burn’ devices work by heating tobacco to a temperature high enough to create a vapour but not smoke. The IQOS heats tobacco to approximately 350C, while the iFuse reaches just 50C. Tobacco in a conventional cigarette is burned at around 800C.
“We believe that smoke-free alternatives, including heated tobacco products like IQOS and e-cigarettes, have significant potential to be less harmful than cigarettes and can play an important role for smokers and public health,” said a Philip Morris International spokesman.
The CoT also conceded there were difficulties in compiling the report. There had been a ‘marked difference’ in the data provided by the two manufacturers, while there was also a lack of independent information available on both products. They also admitted there was not as much real-world data on which they could base their findings as they would have liked.
Still, if the CoT’s findings are correct, they do suggest another step forward in the number of viable alternatives for smokers looking to kick the habit.
The popularity of electronic cigarettes has sky-rocketed over the past decade – some 2.9m Britons now ‘vape’ – with research suggesting they are 95 per cent less harmful than traditional cigarettes.
‘Heat-not-burn’ products likely pose a different risk to health, but they represent another step forward in harm reduction, which has been embraced by the UK in the battle to lower smoking numbers.
Harm reduction revolves around the notion of reducing the damage done by smoking products to users and those around them, as opposed to trying to make people quit ‘cold turkey’ style.
With roughly 90 per cent of smokers failing to quit with recommended dedicated pharmaceutical smoking cessation programmes over 12 months, harm reduction is being credited with the significant fall in smoker numbers throughout the UK.
The increasing number of alternative sources of nicotine, such as electronic cigarettes, show that there are now other options which smokers can turn to for their nicotine rush without anywhere near as many associated health risks. Something The Economist recently coined as “the tobacco paradox”.
Tellingly, PHE for the first time this year promoted the use of electronic cigarettes as a quitting aid during Stoptober.
Last month, the Royal Society in London hosted the fifth annual E-Cigarette Summit, promoting debate on the science behind vaping and its impact on health.
It illustrates the leading role the UK is playing in tobacco harm reduction, as well as the growth of alternative sources for smokers looking to either beat the habit, or at least lessen the impact of their nicotine hit.